A tale of two global health programs: Smallpox eradication's lessons for the antipolio campaign in India


India provided one of the most challenging chapters of the worldwide smallpox eradication program. The campaign was converted from a project in which a handful of officials tried to impose their ideas on a complex health bureaucracy to one in which its components were constantly adapted to the requirements of a variety of social, political, and economic contexts. This change, achieved mainly through the active participation of workers drawn from local communities in the 1970s, proved to be a momentous policy adaptation that contributed to certification of smallpox eradication in 1980. However, this lesson appears to have been largely forgotten by those currently managing the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. We hope to show ways in which contemporary efforts to eliminate polio worldwide might profitably draw on historical information, which can indicate meaningful ways in which institutional adaptability is likely to help counter the political and social challenges being encountered in India.